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Five Market Trends to Watch Out for at JCK Las Vegas

Will the show signal a turnaround in US diamond demand?

May 23, 2024  |  Joshua Freedman
JCK 2023 image

The most important event on the US jewelry calendar is around the corner, and exhibitors are hoping it will signal an upward trend in the market. 

But this year’s JCK Las Vegas show — starting May 31 — comes amid great uncertainty in the diamond industry. These concerns relate to market dynamics as well as major issues such as sanctions on Russian goods, the future of lab-grown, and the potential sale of De Beers. 

The week of jewelry fairs also includes the Luxury show — which, like JCK, will take place at the Venetian in Las Vegas — as well as Couture and the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show, both at the Wynn Las Vegas. 

The shows are a rare opportunity to ask about and identify the industry’s stress points and capture the mood of the industry. The list of things to watch out for could go on for pages. Here are just five: 

1. Will people come? 

Trade shows have not fully recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic. They can be expensive to attend and don’t generate the same sales volume they once did. More business has moved online, and buyers have greater opportunities to buy year-round. Still, shows remain an important venue for education, networking, maintaining client connections, and simply broadcasting one’s presence to the industry. 

As one supplier said: “It’s very difficult to justify the cost, but you can’t not be present at JCK.” 

Overall exhibitor numbers for the upcoming JCK show are similar to 2023, said Sarin Bachmann, group vice president for the jewelry portfolio at RX (formerly Reed Exhibitions), which owns the JCK and Luxury shows. Buyer attendance will be known only once the show has finished, she added. 

Still, anecdotal evidence indicates a number of regular attendees from the diamond industry are not coming this year because of the costs, the weaker market, or both. 

Recently elected Israel Diamond Exchange (IDE) president Nissim Zuaretz said the number of exhibitors at the country’s JCK diamond pavilion would be 20% to 30% lower than last year, at around 40. This reflects a similar increase in the cost of attending, he said. Some of this is due to a scarcity of flights to and from Israel since the Gaza war began in October 2023. 

The average price of international booths has risen 5% to 6% compared with last year, Bachmann acknowledged. “We are very conscious about raising prices as minimally as possible to cover the rising costs from our vendors,” she added, noting that exhibitors could save costs by capitalizing on early-bird prices. 

Yet with the investment involved easily topping $100,000 for many exhibitors, it’s understandable why some believe the revenues don’t justify the cost — even with all the other reasons for attending. 

This force is even greater for lab-grown diamonds: The number of stones an exhibitor needs to sell to cover the cost of a booth has surged over the past year due to falling prices. 

2. How is US retail faring? 

After a difficult 2023, the American diamond market has been a mixed bag this year. Sales of natural-diamond jewelry in the US rose 1% year on year in April but were down year on year for the first fourth months of 2024, according to data provider Tenoris. High inflation and interest rates have continued to impact consumers’ spending power in the mid- and lower-budget segments. 

“There’s some caution right now on overbuying going into the summer,” said Andrew Rickard, vice president of operations at Rochester-based wholesaler RDI Diamonds. “But what I’m hearing is that retailers [are] feeling better about results that they’ve had the last couple of months.” 

Retailers are increasingly shifting away from synthetics due to slumping prices, Rickard observed. (Recent increases in prices of round natural diamonds with SI clarity — a sector that synthetics hit last year — partly reflect this.) 

From the exhibitors’ perspective, the key issue will be how much retailers need inventory for the second half of the year. 

“I was looking at appointments ahead for the show, and I’m way, way ahead of last year,” said a New York-based polished supplier who is otherwise experiencing tough market conditions. “I’ve got a feeling that jewelers’ inventories are lower than they were last year. I think they’ve bought very little over the past several months.” 

3. What’s the mood on De Beers? 

De Beers probably intended its preshow announcement of a price reduction for its Lightbox lab-grown diamonds to dominate conversation at the show. (Its launch of Lightbox six years ago took that accolade at the 2018 fair.)  

But now the main development on diamond exhibitors’ mind is Anglo American’s decision to offload the miner. This has shaken morale, since some have perceived it as a display of reduced confidence in the future of diamonds. It also raises questions for sightholders and the wider market given De Beers’ role as an industry custodian. 

“In the short term, following today’s news, I expect little to change,” De Beers CEO Al Cook wrote in a letter to sightholders following the announcement. Will diamantaires on the show floor see things differently? 

4. What’s going on with sanctions? 

JCK Las Vegas has become almost as much a conference as a trade show, for the same reason that visitors now demand value beyond just merchandise sales. 

Of all the sessions on the packed schedule of talks, one of the most attended will no doubt be “Russia Sanctions and the New Diamond Buying Experience,” featuring Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC) CEO and general counsel Tiffany Stevens and deputy general counsel Sara Yood.  

This comes at a critical time: On Monday, Reuters reported that the US government had “cooled” on the issue of enforcing traceability for diamonds and that discussions for implementing diamond tracing had “stalled.” It also cited a letter from Signet Jewelers CEO Gina Drosos urging the US government to “stand against” the so-called “Belgian plan” for G7 sanctions, which would require all diamonds entering the bloc to pass through Antwerp for verification. 

“We see a clear consensus that…[traceability] protocols should not be bound to a geographic location,” a Signet spokesperson told Rapaport News on Wednesday. 

The JVC session and the wider show should indicate US sentiment on this matter ahead of the September 1 date for the expansion of sanctions to 0.50-carat and larger goods. 

5. Can Americans compete with Indian suppliers? 

China’s slowdown has shifted the industry’s focus to the US in the past two years. This has pushed Indian diamond companies to open American branches, seeking more direct access to the world’s largest diamond retail market, noted Ari Jain, chief financial officer at New York-based wholesaler House of Diamonds, which has manufacturing facilities in Surat, India. 

To what extent have Indian companies cut into American suppliers’ market share? And will they outprice them at the show? We’ll find out soon. 


JCK 2023 image Five Market Trends to Watch Out for at JCK Las Vegas

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